You Con Du It!

Posted in Feature on September 25, 2003

By Mark L. Gottlieb

Whenever an Unglued card makes the transition to the big time, the result is always interesting. The card started out its career only meaning to be goofy; a joker in a poker deck. But parallelling the career of Tom Hanks, when a light comedy fixture reveals a serious side, top honors ensue. Well, the acclaim received by Atogatog isn't quite the same as an Academy Award, but the mother of all Atogs sure did turn heads. The Halaam Djinn rode the spotlight when they hit the scene, but never advanced too far beyond Limited. Much grander was the impact of the split cards, which immediately shot up to superstar status. (Interestingly, in the time since the split cards were printed, two split card halves have seen print as individual cards. Onslaught gave us Demystify, a modern-day Wax/Wane, and Mirrodin trots out Regress, a straight-up copy of Stand/Deliver without that peskily helpful Stand part.) All of those cards, which successfully crossed over from Unglued status, were slated to be printed in Unglued II. They never existed, of course, until coming out in tournament-legal sets. Now an actual, honest-to-Rosewater Unglued card has been granted new life as a card to be taken seriously. And it's a doozy.

My original plan for this week was just to build some varied Mirrodin decks. Explore the set a little; let it breathe. And I started to do just that—until I ran across Power Conduit. This little baby does everything! It slices, it dices, it juliennes! It's not quite as versatile (and thus not as crazy) as its predecessor Giant Fan because it only creates two types of counters—Giant Fan created every type possible—and the Conduit lets you remove counters only from your own permanents. But trust me, that's plenty. Plus, it's cheaper to play, cheaper to use, and it's only uncommon, not rare.

Power Conduit

Over the Counter

Before crossing over into the more bizarre uses of Power Conduit (and I know some of you have already gone there—slow down, slow down), keep in mind that it's an excellent card if just used in a traditional way. If all you did with it was move +1/+1 counters around on your creatures, you've created a versatile, constantly shifting battlefield rife with combat tricks. Your creatures become fiercely difficult to block as each one of them threatens to become bigger at a moment's notice. You can play a fun little tempo game as your later creatures keep feeding your early-game creatures. Enter the Slith, creatures that give themselves counters whenever they deal combat damage to a player. By getting out to a quick start with a hasty Slith Firewalker, or continually pounding through defenses with a trampling Slith Predator, you keep the pressure on starting on turn 2. Some other creatures that appreciate the nice permanent power boost that comes in the form of +1/+1 vitamins are Spikeshot Goblin, which translates those counters into repeatable direct damage, and Skirk Commando, which becomes as hard to block as it is to leave unblocked. Banshee's Blade turns any attacking creature into a Slith, and turns an attacking Slith into some kind of nutty double-Slith.

Now that we have creatures that want to receive counters, where do we get them from? Battlegrowth is an easy answer, as are Forge Armor and Wurmskin Forger. Those spells can put counters directly onto whatever needs them the most, though. How do we send some power through the conduit? Myr Prototype gains a counter every turn, and the more counters it has, the less useful it becomes. Ship them off! The Clockwork creatures come into play with a supply of counters on them; the Clockwork Vorrac can produce a new counter each turn, and the Clockwork Condor can be either loaded up with counters if you need an evasive attacker or stripped of its counters if you need to toughen up some other creatures. Let's not forget charge counters: Serum Tank and Sun Droplet can be charged up if you need cards or life, or they can be drained if they have more counters than necessary. Versatility—the more your deck contains, the more opportunities you have to outthink your opponent.

Slithen Up

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Counter Productive

The key to fully harnessing Power Conduit's potential is to realize that its cost is not really a cost at all. It reminds me of Quirion Ranger and Wirewood Symbiote: Frequently, the “cost” part of the ability is the more desired result. You want to return that Forest to your hand so you can put it back into play untapped. You want to bounce an Elf that's on the wrong end of a Smother. When you can use Power Conduit to remove a bad counter from one of your permanents and turn it into a good counter instead, you've improved your position on both ends of the exchange. It's nice to be in a win-win situation with yourself. This leads to two amazing Power Conduit combos:

Power Conduit & Decree of Silence

You can cast spells. Your opponent can't. Normally it takes three spells from your opponent to silence the Decree of Silence—but when you keep moving depletion counters off the enchantment, that's an evil trick. It's also a lock.

Quicksilver Fountain

Power Conduit & Quicksilver Fountain

Remember Contamination? Remember Cyclopean Tomb? Well, forget about them. Cheaper than the Tomb, and without the upkeep requirement of Contamination, you can turn all your opponent's lands into Islands. Each land in the game will reset once they're all Islands, but that won't happen as long as you keep moving flood counters off your own lands. This isn't a complete lock, as your opponent can lay down a Mountain, say, to get colored mana for a turn (and it's pretty useless if you're facing a blue deck), but it's a nasty way to sink your opponent while getting a free counter each turn to move onto something else.

What to do with the former depletion and flood counters? Move them onto Triskelion, which converts each counter into a point of direct damage. Move them onto Pentavus, which converts each counter into a 1/1 flying creature. Move them onto Serum Tank to draw cards. My favorite plan is to move them onto Riptide Replicator. No longer expensive, the Replicator can come out for 4 mana without any charge counters at all, then you can add charge counters to it over the course of the game via Power Conduit. It might be difficult to keep track of your token creatures, as they'll be different sizes depending on when you create them . . . which is kinda cool.

The wonky mana base, and the tiny splash of black, are to help support Quicksilver Fountain. You need enough lands that are non-Islands to make sure that you'll get a counter each turn without running the risk of triggering the “remove all flood counters” bit. Anyway, you won't mind too much if your Lonely Sandbars or Salt Marshes become Islands. The eight artifact lands interact extraordinarily well with Aphetto Alchemist (since when does blue get Ley Druid?), Neurok Familiar, Serum Tank, Thirst for Knowledge, and even Sculpting Steel if you're a little short on mana sources. Sculpting Steel is incredibly versatile, of course; you'll soon wonder how you ever got along without it.

Silent Fountain

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Hooray for Cumulative Upkeep?!?!

Removing depletion counters and flood counters is okay, I guess . . . but it doesn't compare to removing death counters! Or age counters, or -1/-1 counters. Go back in time a bit and you'll find Magic cards with all kinds of oddball counters on them. How about removing the -0/-1 counters from Wall of Roots? With Power Conduit out, the Wall generates a mana and a counter for free each turn, and it remains an imposing blocker. Syphoning off shell counters from Roc Hydra speeds you to a 4/4 flying creature. Keep the -1/-1 counters off Serrated Biskelion and you've got a colorless Skeleton Ship.

The Conduit lets you manipluate the soot counters on Smokestack, meaning you could have it destroy one of your opponent's permanents every turn without losing any of your own. And if Bogardan Phoenix can't keep a death counter on it, it will rise from the dead over and over again.

Power Conduit's interaction with cumulative upkeep is very interesting. The end result is the elimination of the word “cumulative.” You see, at the beginning of your turn, the cumulative upkeep ability triggers. When it resolves, you add an age counter to the permanent with the ability, then you either sacrifice that permanent or pay the cumulative upkeep cost for each age counter on it. You can't use Power Conduit to remove the age counter before you have to pay the cost. But you can use the Conduit to keep the number of age counters down to just one at a time. Instead of seeing the cost increase each upkeep, you just pay a single installment each turn. Things get even weirder when the cumulative upkeep cards you happen to be using are Aboroth and Tornado. Aboroth has both age counters and -1/-1 counters! By funneling off the age counters, you'll keep Aboroth shrinking at a slow rate. If you put the resulting +1/+1 counters back on Aboroth itself, it will stay 9/9. Tornado has age counters to monitor its cumulative upkeep of , and it has velocity counters to monitor how much life you have to pay to wipe any permanent off the board. Keep the velocity counters off it and you have a ( + the upkeep cost) Desert Twister each turn. Keep both counters off it with a pair of Power Conduits and you have a Desert Twister each turn.

Again, what do we do with our counters? Spike Weaver is a good choice. So are the Phantom Flock and various Molten Hydra. Mindless Automaton turns counters into size and/or cards; Thopter Squadron turns them into flying creatures (and is cheaper than Pentavus). To add +1/+1 counters to man-lands, you have to animate them. But the counters won't fall off when these creatures return to land state, and they're notoriously hard to get rid of. While it's easy to find places to stick +1/+1 counters, charge counters aren't as versatile. Every card printed before Onslaught that mentions charge counters (except one) uses those counters for mana—some in twistedly arcane ways. I certainly don't want to mess around with Ice Cauldron. (Do you?) A single Red Mana Battery can find a place in this deck, as converting counters into mana can't be a bad thing. But it's that one exception that proves to be especially exciting: Magistrate's Scepter. It converts charge counters into extra turns at a rate of three to one. Yeah, I could use some extra turns. Luckily, I have some spare death and shell counters.

Counter Clockwise

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Until next week, only a villain would unleash a power conduit on anyone!


Mark may be reached at Send rules-related Magic questions to

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